Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Great Bengali Escape of 1971!

The 71’ war of East Bengal, now Bangladesh has left miserable rhymes in the hearts of many. Thousands of Bengali Hindus were stranded homeless and fled to India. The word ‘refugee’ came to haunt again and retold a many stories.

One of them was the great escape of a Bengali family in Sylhet- a father in his sixties with seven sons, five daughters and an ailing wife. The family of Purakayasta ensured that life was simpler and enjoyed their companionship.
Their father, a strict disciplinarian to the children and a dutiful husband to his wife ensured that the family upheld the values and practiced every Hindu custom in an Islamic environment. Bangladesh was not formed then, and though there were a sect of people who were anti-Hindu customs then, it still had a large section of people living at peace with other communities.

The moment had arrived when any longer of their stay in Sylhet would mean a sure 'death' for them. Their Hindu neighbors most of them had escaped to India without even telling them. It was a case of fleeing but where to run?

India was the only county who had kept its arms open to East Bengal. The then Prime Minister of India, 'Iron Lady' Srimati Indira Gandhi had been a strong advocate for the formation of Bangladesh, and she had clearly embraced the refugees coming from East Pakistan.

The family had two daughters married in India; the eldest daughter married to an Accountant in Shillong, Meghalaya and the other married to a Banker settled in Silchar,Assam. Shillong would not be the correct option for them as the route was not that easy. So, they settled for Silchar. Their daughter was wired of it. But now how to flee?

They knew that had to escape during the night hours and without any luggages. But, it was easier said then done. How could the family leave everything and flee all of a sudden? But they had to flee. So, they started digging holes in their backyard and stuffed all their objects- sarees, ornaments and so on. They kept the radio switched on at nights, so that armies knew everything was safe.The family hired two boats to take them from Sylhet to Karmigang in India. It was one of the safest routes for them-via water. The women wore burqas and men were in lungis. As they were sailing, the boats used to often encounters other passengers, who were thrown coconuts for FREE. All this were done to avoid any sort of disturbance.

Anyway, the family arrived safely to Silchar and soon the war also got over. Couple of the daughters also got married, and when they went back to Sylhet they were surprised to see the armies didn't touch their backyards and all.

"And, that is how I met your Baba in Silchar." said Maa. There was a sense of nostalgia that crept a shiver of tension in the spine from a far distant. I went to the nearest window and saw a boat sailing by.

The night had just arrived, and I felt maybe it was one of those nights that the family had escaped from Bangladesh by their sheer wisdom and bravery. Indeed, apple and blackberry were just fruits then.


Aman said...

You have the finesse of cutting a sentence and building tempo. Do not digress. This one was good, I will read others by and by ... you know me :)

Rajdeep Gupta said...

Thank you Amanda!